There are many techniques for making the information on a headstone stand out. Unfortunately, some of them are outdated and detrimental to the stones themselves.
For a very long time, using chalk was a popular method for making a gravestone readable. However, chalk is abrasive, and can also stain the stones. Other methods, such as using flour or shaving cream to make the engraving stand out, are just as dangerous. Flour can seep into the pores of the stone and contribute to flaking, expansion, and cracking. The chemicals in shaving cream will ultimately cause the deterioration of the stone.
In fact, you shouldn't use any food items, beauty items, writing implements, paints, abrasives, or cleaners on a gravestone. So what can you do to make the engraving stand out for reading, transcribing, or photographing?
First, try the most basic substance of all - water. Spraying a headstone with water may darken the engravings so that you can read and photograph them. Later on, you can use a photo editing program to enhance the image.
A method I like to use when I make a spontaneous stop at a cemetery is simply tracing with my fingers. Running my fingertips over the engravings usually helps me determine the difference between similar looking numbers or letters.
Sometimes, it's a simple matter of redirecting the light to reflect off the engraving. However, since not everyone drives around with a large mirror in their car, there is another way to read gravestones that can save space and allow you to get a detailed photograph - aluminum foil. Simply press the foil against the headstone and use a wet sponge to rub it. The imprint won't last, so this is your opportunity to take a photograph (probably of the stone both with and without the foil is best) for posterity.
I'd love to know about your successes with these safe techniques for headstone photography, especially if you've used the foil method!
Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan